By Mike Woitalla
Neymar's injury isn't the only topic that gets Brazilian fans riled up. Just mention Fred, the center forward who has scored only one goal in Brazil’s first five games.
"He's like a cone on the field" ... "He can't move." ... "He doesn't shoot. He supposed to head the ball in but doesn't do that."
“We already had Hulk, now we’ve got the Invisible Man,” is the joke making the rounds about the muscle-bound Givanildo Vieira de Souza nicknamed after the super hero and Fred, the 30-year-old who has played for Rio de Janeiro club Fluminense since 2009.
The Fluminense clubhouse and training facility might be the only place in Brazil where Fred is still being hailed. A banner hanging from the ceiling boasts that Fred was the first player who scored at the “New Maracana,” in a 2-2 tie with England in 2013 after the stadium’s latest renovation, and Fluminense’s Dida was the first player everto score in Maracana, when it opened in 1950.
Brazilian fans are puzzled at Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari’s faith in Fred, but he scored in the first three Brazil games after Scolari returned to the helm, and was joint leading scorer during Brazil’s 2013 Confederations Cup win. Fred has scored once, in the 4-1 win over Cameroon. Hulk is scoreless at this tournament.
With Neymar out, after having scored four goals in first-round play, Brazil’s leading scorer is central defender David Luiz, with two goals. Fred’s inability to hit the net is a major problem for Brazil, whose previous five World Cup-winning teams all boasted a standout performance from a frontline leader:
Ronaldo scored eight in 2002 and Romario hit five in 1994. Jairzinho struck seven times in 1970 and made history by scoring in each game. Vava scored four and five goals, respectively, in 1962 and 1958.
“Fred’s not a Selecao-class player, and especially not for a World Cup,” said Tostao, a star forward on the 1970 team. "What can he do? He’s immobile. OK, he battles, but to sum him up: he’s a weak player."
“The Invisible Man needs turn into Super Man,” in the semifinal against Germany on Tuesday, proclaims the daily, Hora Meia. While fans lament that Fred’s backup, Jo, who has played 78 minutes at this World Cup, “isn’t any good either.”
Says Tostao, “That we have no one else besides Fred is even more depressing. Not a good sign for Brazilian soccer."
Famous American Fan? A bronze plaque at Fluminense listing the club’s honorary club members includes American World War II General Mark Clark, racecar driver Emerson Fittipaldi and Dwight D. Eisenhower. (Eisenhower was hugely popular in Brazil, coming as chief of staff of the U.S. Army in 1946 to thank Brazil for its support during World War II and again as president in 1960, attracting the largest crowds a foreigner had ever drawn until then.)
No Jersey Edge. The Germans' secondary jerseys, black-and-red stripes, at this World Cup were designed to resemble those of Brazil’s most popular club, Flamengo. But, Brazilian newspapers crow, the semifinal is in Belo Horizonte, home of Flamengo rivals Cruzeiro and Aletico-MG. Not that the ploy would have mattered against the home team in any venue.
Ref under pressure. Mexican referee Marco Rodriguez has been assigned to run the middle in the Brazil-Germany game. Every mention of him is accompanied with the fact that he’s the man who missed Luis Suarez biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. But how could he? The ref’s eye was on the ball, as one expects.
Neymar’s Replacement. The leading candidate to replace Neymar is 25-year-old Chelsea midfielder Willian, who has played 39 minutes in three appearances as a sub at the tournament. “You can't compare Neymar to any other player," Willian said. "I have a different style. He is more of a striker, scores more goals, while my strong suit is to set up my teammates.”
Which teammates will do the finishing is the question on the minds of Brazil’s fans.